INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – A.J. Foyt IV hears people complain he’s too young, too raw and too erratic to win in Indy cars.

At one point, they might’ve been right.

“The first two years (at Indy) were definitely tough because I was crashing cars and that kind of stuff,” he said. “But I think I’m definitely coming around.”

The IRL’s youngest driver at 20, his resume includes more than a famous name. The grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt already has a points title in the circuit’s developmental circuit – the Infiniti Pro Series – three starts at Indy and his first top-10 finish last year at Texas.

“He’s a different driver than he was last year, completely different,” team owner A.J. Foyt said. “He still has a lot to learn.”

Two years ago, Foyt IV came to Indy with many questions. Other drivers feared him because they didn’t know what to expect. On race day, veteran driver Jimmy Vasser said Foyt IV nearly ran him over and other drivers blasted Foyt for driving too slow.

While it appeared he needed more seasoning, granddad insisted there was only one way to learn the family business – through trial and error.

The elder Foyt won more Indy car races (67) than any other driver, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Daytona 500 and was the first inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame.

in 1989. He’s been at Indianapolis every year since 1958 as either a driver or owner.

Last year, Foyt’s son, Larry, also drove for him at Indy and the two younger Foyts will be part of a three-car Foyt team in Sunday’s starting field at Indy.

A.J. Foyt IV, who turns 21 Wednesday, will start 28th. Larry Foyt qualified 30th and last-minute hire Felipe Giaffone earned the final starting spot, No. 33.

But Foyt IV’s growing pains came at a cost.

His rookie year was marred by three crashes in his first seven IRL races and car problems in six of the other nine.

It was even worse at Indianapolis. His first month on the track included a crash in testing, two practice crashes and another close call when he spun and rolled, embarrassingly, to a stop going backward down the back straightaway.

Then came race day.

Last year, he struggled for speed all month and then crashed early in last year’s race, an incident that the elder Foyt credits with changing his grandson’s perspective.

“I think that taught him a big lesson because he watched the rest of the race on TV,” the team owner said. “He’s like (Arie) Luyendyk’s boy, he’s a good race-car driver, but you’ve got to crawl before you can walk.”

By late last season, Foyt IV’s results were starting to reflect the changes.

He qualified sixth at Chicago – his best ever starting spot for an IRL race. He followed that with a seventh-place qualification run at California, then produced his best finish (10th) in the season-finale at Texas.

Suddenly, Foyt IV was no longer a danger; he appeared to be adjusting to the powerful cars and tricky tracks that made him look uncomfortable for the better part of two years.

“I see a lot more confidence and a lot more feedback in terms of what the car is doing,” Larry Foyt said. “This year, he has definitely come a long way.”

Foyt IV, like most of the Toyota drivers, has continued having some problems this year but most were not self-inflicted. Yes, he completed just 21 laps at St. Petersburg, Fla., before crashing on the IRL’s first-ever road course, but he finished ninth at the season opener in Homestead, Fla., and has completed at least 195 laps in three of this year’s four races.

At Indy, he used a backup engine – with little practice time – to produce a respectable four-lap average of 220.442 mph. Two years ago, that seemed almost inconceivable.

Foyt IV has gained confidence and has a better understanding of how to change his car. He’s even heard compliments from other drivers and other teams.

“What you go through and deal with is sometimes hard,” he said. “But we’re making improvements. As long as you’re going forward, you can get back up there.”

AP-ES-05-23-05 2131EDT

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